Puberty in boys: Stages, changes and common problems
Puberty is a natural process in which the body reaches sexual maturity. It is considered to be the beginning of adolescence and is complete when girls experience their first menstrual period or viable sperm is present to ejaculate for the first time in boys. Mostly, girls attain puberty at around age 12, and boys at around 13.
Signs of puberty in boys:
For 95 percent of boys, puberty begins around the age of 9 but sometimes, it may start as late as age 14. Some boys mature faster than their peers, and experience some physical changes faster.
- The first sign of puberty in boys is usually that their testicles get bigger and the scrotum begins to grow thin.
- The penis and testicles grow and the scrotum gradually become darker
- Pubic hair becomes thicker and curlier
- Underarm hair starts to grow
- Start to sweat more
- They may have “wet dreams” (involuntary ejaculations of semen as they sleep)
- Their voice “breaks” and gets permanently deeper – for a while, a boy might find his voice goes very deep one minute and very high the next
- Boys go through a growth spurt and become taller by an average of 7 to 8 cms, or around 3 inches a year, and more muscular
A number of these physical changes are very personal. As a parent, you may not notice them, but your son will. Some of these may be embarrassing experiences for him and he may keep much of this private.
1. Body shape:
Externally, you may notice your son’s body begin to grow, but just before that happens, he may put on a little weight and look like he’s all arms and legs. Next comes a growth spurt, often around the age of 15.
2. Acne, sweating, and hair:
His hormones will produce more oil on his skin and he may be prone to acne breakouts. This is the perfect time to introduce him to good skin care routines. He starts to sweat more and develop body odor. He will also develop facial hair.
3. Penis and testicles growth:
The first sign of puberty actually begins with the growth of your son’s testicles and scrotum, which will eventually double in size. His penis and testicles will begin to grow as he enters puberty.
4. Voice change:
Your son’s voice will change around the time when his growth spurt has begun to slow down a bit. This occurs because his vocal cords and voice box (larynx) grows too.
5. Nocturnal emissions and frequent erections:
As your son develops, he may begin to have nocturnal emissions, or “wet dreams,” in which he ejaculates at night. This can occur with or without a sexual dream and is completely normal. Talking to your son about nocturnal emissions before they happen is helpful so he knows what to expect. Involuntary erections are another big part of male puberty and can occur at any time, for absolutely no reason at all. Explain to your son that this may happen for a while, and he will likely have little control over it, but it will get better as he gets older.
Stages of puberty in boys:
Puberty in boys is measured through Tanner stages or Tanner scale, named after James Tanner, who has identified the pattern of growth. Tanner scale is a way to measure the physical development of children. Below, is what happens in each of the five stages.
Tanner stage I (< 9 years):
- No noticeable physical change
- The brain signals the body to prepare for change
- The hypothalamus starts to release GnRH hormone
- Two more puberty hormones, LH and FSH, are produced
- The testicular volume is less than 4ml
Tanner stage II (9-11 years):
- The testes start to enlarge
- Pigmentation of the scrotum
- Downy hair starts to grow after the testicular growth
- The testicular volume is 4-8ml
Tanner stage III (11-12.5 years):
- The penis and testicles continue to enlarge
- Some breast tissues may start to develop under the nipples resulting in slight enlargement of breasts
- Pubic hair grows and becomes coarse and curly
- Voice begins to change and may crack often
- Height starts increasing by 2 to 3.5in every year
- The testicular volume is 9-12ml
Tanner stage IV (12.5-14 years)
- Spermarche, or the development of the sperm, takes places
- The testes, scrotum, and penis continue to enlarge
- The scrotum may look darker than before
- Pubic hair fills the entire triangle overlying the pubic region
- Hair begins to grow in the armpits and on the face
- The deeper voice becomes permanent at this stage
- Pimples may start to appear
- The testicular volume is 15-20ml
Tanner stage V (> 14 years)
- The testes, scrotum, and penis have reached adult size
- The pubic hair has grown to a full extent
- Facial hair will start to grow; some boys may need to shave by now
- Growth in terms of height will slow down
- The muscles will still be developing
- By 18 years, most boys will have reached their full growth
- The testicular volume is more than 20ml
Common Puberty Concerns
The physical changes kids experience as they move towards adulthood are accompanied by emotional consequences. Some boys love the sight of themselves all lathered up with shaving cream; others may be uncomfortable with the attention they get for a few new shoots of hair.
- Pimples are common for most teens. Acne is caused by glands in the skin that produce a natural oil called sebum. Washing gently with water and mild soap can get rid of excess sebum and help reduce breakouts. Your family doctor can recommend a dermatologist if basic skin care and OTC medications do not keep acne under control.
- Boys, capable of having erections since infancy, can now experience ejaculation. Usually, this first happens between the age of 11 and 15, either spontaneously in connection with sexual fantasies, during masturbation, or as a nocturnal emission (also called a wet dream). If he doesn’t know about wet dreams before he has one, a boy may think he has urinated accidentally or that something has gone wrong with his body.
- Masturbation is another topic, often considered as private, many kids might feel too embarrassed to talk about it because they are concerned that their parents will be angry or disappointed with them. Some kids may prefer to talk to older siblings, friends, or their doctors rather than a parent. If you are concerned or have questions about masturbation, consult your doctor.
The onset of puberty before the age of 9 generally defines precocious puberty in boys and involves early physical changes of puberty, as well as accelerated linear growth and bone maturation. Early puberty occurs due to the abnormalities in the brain or in the reproductive system and can be classified into two categories that is Central precocious puberty (brain) and Peripheral precocious puberty (reproductive system) depending on where the abnormality is.
When a male shows no signs of entering puberty by the age of 14 (no enlargement of the testes), puberty is generally said to be delayed. Puberty can be delayed by a number of different factors, including inadequate nutrition, chronic illness, severe levels of stress and problems with interactions between the brain and the reproductive system.
How to talk to your son about puberty?
Your little boy is growing up and this also means that he may open up to you less. It is common for teenage boys to become less talkative and withdraw from their parents. Keep the lines of communication open and talk to your son about the changes he is experiencing. Stay connected to his interests and talk to him about sports, school, or whatever he enjoys. This will help him feel comfortable about approaching when he needs to talk about something important.